A solicitor at human rights firm Leigh Day destroyed an important document one day before investigators were due to inspect files, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard today.
Anna Crowther had identified the significance of an Arabic document and its handwritten translation after a disclosure request from the Al-Sweady inquiry into claims made against the Ministry of Defence.
The tribunal heard she spent seven hours on August bank holiday in 2013 looking for relevant documents and was ‘jumpy’ about the document, which was a list of detainees held during the Iraq War in 2004.
She typed the translation up word for word from the handwritten translation made in 2007, in order to present it to investigators. But she admitted a ‘mistake’ in destroying the handwritten version once she had completed the work.
Timothy Dutton QC, representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said her error amounted to a breach of professional rules and prevented the inquiry team from knowing who had made the translation and exactly when.
Crowther said: ‘There was certainly no attempt to conceal my error, I just didn’t realise I had made one at first. I didn’t attach any importance to the translation. It was a mistake that could be made by others in my position. It was an error I massively regret – I can’t tell you how much.’
Crowther at times appeared tearful as she recounted how she placed the translation in the confidential waste bin immediately after making the copy, without consulting any senior staff about its significance. It was three weeks before she told senior staff there had been a handwritten copy of the Arabic document.
She was pressed by Dutton on whether she was responsible for not disclosing the document earlier. The list of detainees linked individuals named with an insurgent militia and it is accepted by all parties it would have at least cast doubt on the provenance of the claims that British troops committed atrocities.
The tribunal heard that Crowther initially told the SRA she believed she had a duty to disclose the document when she was interviewed by its investigators. Her understanding, she said, had now changed.
‘At the time of the SRA interview I was looking back with the benefit of hindsight and blaming myself for everything that happened,’ she said. ‘The reality is I wish we spotted the significance of the document sooner and disclosed sooner, not necessarily because we had a legal obligation to do so before the inquiry request or because we breached any duty but [we] would have stopped everything we went through when we did discover the disclosure issue, which was the negative press, the shock and the anger that we missed it.’
The solicitor, who qualified in 2008 after two years at Leigh Day, was present on the first day of the Al Sweady inquiry in 2010 and heard the chairman call for disclosure of relevant documents. She admitted it was a ‘regret’ she had not disclosed the detainees list at that point but said she was recently qualified and believed the chairman to be asking people to come forward who had not known previously the inquiry was taking place.
The tribunal, which is now into its fifth week, continues. Crowther, Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and the firm all deny breaching SRA rules.